Wednesday, February 21, 2024

StorySpotting: The goddess under the ice (True Detective: Night Country)

 StorySpotting is a series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

I don't usually post about shows where the entire story is based on folklore, but this season of True Detective was just too well done.

Where was the story spotted?

True Detective: Night Country (Season 4)

What happens?

When the entire crew of an arctic research station disappears at the start of the weeks-long winter night, two (personally messed up, as per usual for TD) detectives start trying to solve the case. The plot is intertwined with Indigenous tradition, identity, and relationships with the white residents of the town. There is a distinct supernatural tint to this season: people seeing (and getting clues from) spirits and ghosts, traditions being carried of questioned, and an open-ended season finale that leaves room for explanations that are not tangible.

Early on, the young son of one of the policemen in town is seen drawing a gory picture (below). When his (white) father is taken aback by this, his Indigenous mother argues that he should "know his own culture." It has been confirmed by showrunners that the image is that of the goddess most often referred to as Sedna. The rest of the show has many more moments that reference her myth and her character, although she is never mentioned by name (only as She). The plot is also - loosely - based on her story, if you look close enough.


What's the story?

The earliest published records of this story can be found in Franz Boas' book on Inuit culture (1903), and Knud Rasmussen's books on the Thule Expeditions in the first decades of the 20th century. They collected a lot of information on Inuit folklore and mythology - stories among them. For example, Rasmussen writes that the most powerful spirit in Netsilik tradition was named Nuliajuk, mistress of land and sea and the mother of animals. Boas records her name as Sedna.

So here are some of the elements of this mythology that make a appearance in the show:

- The goddess can make hunting bountiful, or can make animals disappear (In the first scene of the season, we see reindeer fleeing into the abyss from a hunter.)

- She used to be a mortal woman who was thrown overboard into the sea, and people (or her own father) cut her fingers off when she clung to the kayak. Her fingers turned into seals and other sea creatures, and she sank to the bottom of the ocean, becoming a powerful spirit. In some versions, one of her eyes is also knocked out. (See drawing above. I would also argue that the missing eye of a witness, and the missing fingers of the killer who is finally revealed are also an homage to Sedna.)

- She has a house made of whale bones at the bottom of the sea (The ice cave the detectives finally locate has frozen whale bones in the walls.)

- She can summon blizzards (A blizzard, and other freak weather events, play an important role in the show)

- She is especially dangerous, with a lot of taboo directed at her, during the dark time of the year (Which is when the show takes place.)

- When people don't observe taboo, or disrespect nature, she is angered, and she hides the animals. These times, shamans have to descend into her realm to placate her, by combing all the filth out of her hair. (Many people in the show literally descent under the ice, and have various visions and journeys, trying to solve the case that seems like the result of her wrath over the pollution of the local mines.)

- In connection to the above, one source mentions that the "pollution" that offends the goddess is designated with the same word that is used for stillborn children. (In the show, it is specifically mentioned that several children had died due to the pollution from the mines.)

- She also rules over the underworld, where people's spirits go after they die, at least for a while. (Many deceased people make an appearance in the show, talking to various living relatives.)

You can read in detail about Sedna's mythology - and its relationship to environmental awareness - in this book.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed slowly picking up on the references to the myth over the course of the show, and then making guesses at what the solution was going to be. I still did not anticipate the actual reveal in the finale, but I think it was excellently done.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Firendship, love, and dragons (Lunar New Year)

We are entering the Year of the Dragon with this lunar new year, according to various East Asian traditions. So, it is time to break out some of my favorite dragons stories! 

I have done similar collections before, for the years of the Rabbit, Rat, and Pig. Dragons are obviously popular when it comes to folklore - so I decided to limit this list to some highlights where dragons are friendly... or even falling in love. 

Links in the titles, as usual.

Benzaiten and the Dragon

This is an 11th century Japanese legend, chronicling the destruction a fearsome five-headed dragon named Gozuryu brought on people. Eventually, to ease their suffering, the goddess Benzaiten (herself daughter of a dragon) descended from the heavens and created an island to live on. The dragon fell in love with her, but she rejected his suit, pointing out the evils he had committed. The dragon felt shame and changed his ways, transforming into a series of hills to protect the villages he had harmed.

The dragons of Lake Tazawa

Another Japanese legend, possibly reminiscent of a volcanic eruption that happened a thousand years ago. A girl wants to become immortal, but gets too greedy, and transforms into a dragon. A hunter is punished for his own greet by turning into a dragon too, and then being exiled from his lake by a hostile monk. The two of them end up meeting and falling in love. Legend says Hachirotaro (the hunter) visits his beloved in Lake Tazawa and stays with her every winter - because of that, the lake never freezes over.

The dragon-prince and the stepmother

A Turkish folktale about a queen who gives birth to a dragon. The dragon-prince devours all his nurses, teachers, and brides, until one servant-girl shows up and manages to tame him. On their wedding night, the dragon turns into a prince. Later, the lovers are separated, and the girl marries again; when the dragon prince finds her, she needs to make a difficult choice.

King Dragon

Also known as the Lindworm. It's the better known Danish version of the story above. It features a scene where the bride takes off several layers of gowns while the dragon takes off his skins.

The black dragon and the red dragon

Also a Turkish folktale, about a pasha who sets out to find his forty stolen children. On his way he encounters a brood of newborn dragons, and helps them reunite with their mother. The grateful mother dragon, and her brother, help the pasha along his journey, and save him multiple times until he finally finds his own children and returns home with them.

Courageous Daughter

Uighur folktale about a brave girl who sets out to find a cure for her father's blindness. On the way she befriends a dragon, and goes through a series of adventures (including a trip to Rome, and saving a princess), until she can return home with the cure - and even disenchant the dragon.

Pear Blossom and the flower dragon

I highly doubt this is a folktale at all, even though it runs as a "Chinese folktale". Anyway, it works well with young children. It is about a poor girl who sets out to visit her rich uncle, and on her journey befriends a fairy and a flower-loving dragon. In the end, the uncle turns out to be a horrible person, but the dragon helps her achieve her dreams.

The dragon carved from wood

One of my favorite dragon stories, from the Bai people. A village is plagued by an evil dragon. A wise carpenter volunteers to help them by carving a wooden dragon and bringing it to life to have it fight the evil one. It is quite the epic story, with a lot of twists and turns.

Wild Goose Lake

Also from the Bai people. A girl, seeking water for her village during a drought, befriends the third daughter of a dragon king. They share a mutual love of singing, and together they devise a plan to unlock the dam of the lake where the king hoards water. For saving the humans, the dragon girl is exiled, and she moves in with her human friend.

The Laidly Worm of Bamborough

An English story about a princess who is turned into a dragon by her stepmother. Her brother uses magic to combat the witch's curse, and saves his sister through kindness and compassion.

The cooper and the dragons

A cooper accidentally falls into a ravine in the mountains, and has to spend the winter with a pair of hibernating dragons. In the spring, when the dragons fly out, he clings to one of them and manages to return to his village. This is one of my favorite folktale types; it also exists in Hungary, Bhutan, and other places around the world. 

Princess Sita

A legend from Vietnam, about a dragon princess who helps her immortal friend win a bride. When the groom's rival tries to destroy humanity, Sita fights to save people, and even makes a huge personal sacrifice to end the destruction.

Aoxingbe and the dragon

An Oroqen folktale from China. When Aoxingbe tries to rescue a princess from an underworld demon, he gets stuck in the realm below. There he meets a dragon prince who is similarly trapped. He saves the dragon, and in turn, the dragon helps him return home and win the princess.

The dragon king's daugther

A Chinese folktale about a dragon princess who is very curious about the human world. She sneaks out to attend a lantern festival, but almost causes disaster when she gets her clothes wet and returns to her original shape. She almost dies to save humans from her own power, but in the end, a goddess intervenes on her behalf.

Sister Lace

Tale from the Miao people. A girl is famous for making lace that she can even bring to life. When an evil emperor kidnaps her and forces her to create fantastic creatures, she eventually makes a dragon out of lace, and uses it to break out of captivity.

Also, I am not going to list all the tales from it, but I highly recommend my favorite collection of Chinese (and minority) dragon folktales, titled Eight Dragons on the Roof. It is a gem of a book.

Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 31, 2023

290 earworms

This is the fifth year that I wrote down what music was stuck in my ear every morning when I woke up. It is becoming really fun to follow the statistics year after year.

2018: I woke up with an earworm 306 mornings, featuring 150 different songs (post here)

2019: 316 mornings, 137 songs (post here)

2020: 346 mornings, 149 songs (post here)

2021: 312 mornings, 124 songs (post here)

2022: 313 mornings, 129 songs (post here)

This year I also got to examine how parenting affects earworms :) Luckily, I ended up with fewer annoying kids' songs than expected. On the other hand, there were fewer mornings when I 1) woke up and had time to pay attention to earworms and 2) I remembered to write them down before I forgot. Thus, this year's numbers are not quite accurate, but oh well. I can say I woke up with music in my head at least 290 times, and the list contains 140 songs.

Since I had a lot less time to listen to music this year, the list contains a lot more random songs that I have not heard in years, never liked, or simply "caught" in a mall or something. There is still no correlation between what I like to listen to, and what sticks. Neither is any between whan sticks during the day, and what I wake up with.

Without further ado, here's the Top 5 of this year:

First place with 20 (!!!) mornings: 

The kid listened to this on an endless loop, and since it really is catchy (see last year), obviously it shot to the top, way ahead of all other songs. This is the highest individual number of mornings I have had so far (the previous record was 16).

Second place with 13 mornings:

Spirited is a dumb fun movie, and the soundtrack is quite catchy. This was not my favorite song from it, but for some reason this is the one that stuck the most. 

Third place with 7 mornings:

This was a four-way tie between two Disney songs - Surface pressure from Encanto, and Let it go from Frozen - courtesy of the kid, and a Monster High song (No apologies), which I don't have an excuse for :) My favorite however was the song below, from the Matilda musical. For both lyrics and choreography. 


Fourth place with 6 mornings:

Another tie - between Do a little good (Spirited again), and this song from another new favorite musical, Six. I also found myself humming the latter a lot when I was awake.

Fifth place with 5 mornings:

Another multiple tie: a Spirited song (The view from here), Ed Sheeran (Shape of you), and two more Monster High songs (Here I am, and the one below). I have to admit, Monster High is a very dumb movie series, but it is also strangely adorable.

I even made a chart this year! The majority of songs came from 7 albums I like, while 40% was completely random. The two largest slices were Disney, and the soundtrack of the & Juliet musical. Since the latter contains pop hits from the 90s and 00s, it obviously is very catchy (but since it has a lot of songs, none rose to the top list individually). I also have to note that, next to In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda was responsible for most of the Disney slice too.




And finally, this year's WTF pick, for obvious reasons (luckily, I only woke up with this once):

How was your year, in terms of music? Do you tend to wake up with earworms too?

Saturday, December 30, 2023

2023: The year in (good) TV shows

This year was not exactly outstanding in terms of TV shows - mostly for personal reasons, since I had limited time and focus to watch anything. My list has 66 series, but many of them I never finished, or have completely forgotten since. Still, there were a few worth mentioning.

("This year" means I watched them in 2023. When they were made is irrelevant. And the list is completely subjective. No particular order.)


New series


Gen V

We finally got The Boys spinoff, and it's the X-men on coke. I like the original series too, but Gen V ended up being especially likable (in a weird, gory, gallows humor sorta way). Seems like the creators got complete freedom in taking the "superhero school" trope and giving it a hard 18+ rating. They go the extra mile every time. The characters are all flawed, messed up, and still likable; the casting is perfect. Looking forward to the next season.


One Piece (Live Action)

After something sarcastic and gory, here is something cute and cuddly. I have to confess, I love watching anime but I never really got into One Piece, mostly because of the art style. (And the daunting episode number). The live action remake, however, turned out to be extremely likable. Casting is great, and you can tell everyone put their best bright-eyed fan energy into their role. And the visuals translated into live action without losing quirkiness. Also, this series comes with lots of awesome "behind the scenes" content.

Twisted Metal

Most underrated series of the year. It needs more attention, but at least it has been renewed. It's a video game adaptation with a crazy post-apocalyptic setting (I never played the game so it was all new for me). Anthony Mackie and Stephanie Beatriz are a perfect duo, and they carry the story with lots of humor and action. The supporting cast is similarly great, the soundtrack is strong, and the show should be nominated for a "most fun sex scene" award...  

Pokerface

Whoever thought Natasha Lyonne would make a great Detective Columbo was a genius. Because she does. She plays her usual character, solves weekly murders, and is surrounded by memorable characters. We love her in everything she does. Luckily, the show has already been renewed. If you liked Lie to me back in the day, you'll like this one too.

The Last of Us

Audience favorite of 2023, and honestly it deserves it. I was getting very bored of the zombie genre (abandoned Walking Dead like 5 seasons ago), but this one managed to be likable (due to the stellar actors) and also kinda fun with all the fungus special effects. And that episode. You know the one.




Returning series


The Bear (season 2)

If I had to pick "best show this year", this one would be it. Second year in a row. The Bear can make no mistakes - not in dialogue, not in plot, not in acting. Every scene is perfect, funny, deeply likable, kinda crazy. And the Fishes episode alone needs to get all the awards. Like, all of them.



Glow Up (season 5)

I don't watch a whole lot of reality TV, but this one is definitely my favorite. I can watch for hours, enthralled, as make-up artists apply colors, design looks, and demonstrate tricks of the trade. And since it's a British show, the judges are kind too.


Outgoing series

Better Call Saul

Finally said a tearful goodbye to one of the best TV shows I have ever watched. They could make no mistake, it was perfect all the way up to the last frame, and had a very appropriate, touching ending. They stayed true to the characters and the storyline. And I'll die on this hill: this show was much, much better than Breaking Bad. (One day, I'll do a TED talk about why it's not more popular).


The Great

Another great, unhinged TV show that was fun to watch. If one does alternative history, then they should do it like this... Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult were an amazing duo with good chemistry, I would have watched the whole thing for several more seasons. But at least it had an ending that feels good enough.


Ted Lasso

This show was planned as a three-season story, and it stuck the landing without effort. It was the most likable series in the past years, with a great cast of actors and characters. It is a feel-good story, doesn't put your soul through the ringer, and yet it made me cry a little at the end. If they get any spinoffs, I'll be watching those too.



Movies


Háromezer számozott darab / Three thousand numbered pieces

The best Hungarian movie of the past years, created by young Roma artists. It is about a Roma acting group (directed by a white dude) that tavels abroad to perform at an international theater festival. It is sarcastic, poignant, funny, and somewhat surreal as it deals with issues of racism, prejudice, cultural appropriation, and white privilege. I was laughing and cringing at the same time. Hungary needs a lot more movies like this. 

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

I liked the Hunger Games back then, but I wasn't a diehard fan. I haven't read this new book, so the entire story was a surprise to me - and a pleasant one. I'd even venture to say that as a film, it was better than the originals. I kept guessing where it would go and it defied a lot of expectations, managing to completely avoid the tired "good man turns evil from heartbreak" trope. And the music was good too.

The three musketeers: D'Artagnan

I'd watch any iteration of this story anyway, but this time, it was actually good. Hellooo, Vincent Cassel and Eva Green! They twisted the story enough that it was surprising, and the fight scenes were rough and awesome. I'm looking forward to the second movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy 3

Gotta admit, I didn't like the first two movies at all. But this one was finally likable - ironically, because it was also pretty damn dark. Sam Raimi wanted to bring horror to Marvel with Doctor Strange, and then James Gunn just went "hold my beer"... and created a pet body horror movie that also turned out to be a feel-good ending to a trilogy. I didn't expect any of this, but I approve. And the soundtrack was spot on too.

Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse

Best visuals this year. Probably this decade. It lived up to the first movie, and created an art style that is unique, expressive, detailed, and memorable. Everything has a meaning, and sound, imagery, and story all work together. Plus once again it has an epic soundtrack. And Spider-Punk is an instant favorite.

Friday, December 29, 2023

2023: The year in (good) books

Even though this year was more than chaotic for me, I still made time for reading. In fact, it was my favorite thing to do when I wanted to relax and tune out in the evenings. Because of this, I slightly overshot last year's numbers  - especially because there were a lot of short children's books on the list this year :)

I finished a total of 101 books, almost 19,000 pages. Below you can see a list of my favorites, in no particular order.


Fiction

I didn't read much fiction this year, but in December one last book made the list anyway.

R. F. Kuang: Yellowface

You will especially enjoy this book if you are a writer, or if you work in publishing. It speaks in the first person, allowing us a glimpse into the messed-up mind of a woman who does serious mental gymnastics to justify her theft of someone else's manuscript. On top of that, she pretends to be of Chinese descent (for publicity), digging herself into a deeper and deeper hole. As the book turns into a bestseller, we get to watch with morbid curiosity how far her lie would stretch before it all comes crashing down. Besides being entertaining and clever, Yellowface also delivers some punches at the business of publishing and social media.


Nonfiction

Still my favorite genre, and thanks to the Polymath Reading Challenge (and Ploymath Plus), I read a lot of it this year. Here are my new favorites:

Sabrina Imbler: How far the light reaches

I thought it would be a book about marine biology, but it turned out to be something much more complex and beautiful. It is a series of poetic essays, mixing scientific information with the author's own life, identity, and emotions. Neither eclipsed the other. Identity in itself is represented in its richness: the author is queer, part Chinese, child of an immigrant mother, and a member of a generation seeking its place and purpose. Also a sicence journalist, which shows in the attention to detail and empathy directed at marine creatures and humans alike. 

Mike Brown: How I killed Pluto and why it had it coming

If you were upse too when Pluto got demoted, this book is for you. The astronomer whose discoveries accidentally resulted in one fewer planet in our solar system explains what happened, why, and how. It is an enjoyable read. I loved the chapters detailing the painstaking process of search and discovery, looking for barely visible specks of light in the vast night sky, trying to catch a new object.

Carlo Ginzburg - Bruce Lincoln: Old Thiess, a Livonian werewolf

In 1691, during a witch trial, a witness was suddenly accused of being a werewolf. To which the old man shrugged and replied: "yeah, and?" The resulting new trial was, luckily, well documented, and that is what we get to read in this book, alongside several essays and discussions by the authors (representing two distinct points of view). Old Thiess, the werewolf, tells the judges how he is a member of a pack, and how they travel every year to the Underworld to save the crops from evil magicians. You have to admire the pluck of this old guy so long ago: when life gives you a werewolf trial, roll with it and take over the narrative...

Paulo Lemos Horta: Marvellous Thieves

Mandatory reading for all storytellers. A very cool basic concept: the author spends each chapter delving into the life and work of famous translators of the 1001 Nights. He examines how their experiences and personalities influenced the translations they produced... and how much those can actually be called "translations" at all. Antoine Galland, for example (the man credited for starting the Arabian Nights craze in Europe) is famous for adding a whole lot of random tales to a manuscript of only 200 he had, to round out the collection. Also mentioned are Edward Lane, who was a proud Egypt expert, but completely lost without his local guides (and cut women out of many of the tales), and Richard Burton, who never actually translated from the original, rather he repurposed other English translations, and created a myth of himself as an orientalist. Featured furthermore are pre-raffaelite poet John Payne, who barely spoke Arabic but wanted to add the censored saucy bits back in; and Henry Whitelock Torrens, who sadly never finished his own translation, even though he was the only one who could match the language of the tales and understood the importance of female characters. I really enjoyed this book, appreciated the detailed research and psychological insights, and learned a whole lot about the 1001 Nights.

Merve Emre: The Personality Brokers

If you still had any doubt that the Myers-Briggs Personality Test is about as scientific as a horoscope, read this book. It is endlessly entertaining and somewhat surreal to read how it became a worldwide phenomenon while not having any solid foundations in science. The life story of the mother-daughter pair who created it is fascinating, peppered with religious fanaticism, racism, and shockingly abusive Victorian parenting techniques. Victorian mothers will literally invent a personality test and write homoerotic fan fiction of C. G. Jung instead of going to therapy...

Maria Noriega Rachwal: From kitchen to Carnegie Hall

The Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra was the first complete all-women orchestra in North America when it was founded in 1940. Ethel Stark and Madge Bowen - two vastly different women - went against all social norms and expectations to create it. The whole story should be an HBO show, really. In the early 1900s many musical instruments were not thought to be suitable for women (string instruments you had to hold between your legs), so the founders advertised that they'll accept anyone who "could read a little music", regardless of race, age, religion, or social standing. They ended up with an amazingly diverse orchestra including students and grandmothers, heiresses and factory workers, Anglo-Saxon white women, French Catholic women, Jewish women, black women, etc. Ethel distributed used instruments and everyone learned on their own, practicing in living rooms and basements. And against all odds, naysayers and mockery, 7 years later they were performing in Carnegie Hall - the first Canadian orchestra to do so. The orchestra existed for 30 years, and in the end disbanded because it succeeded: female musicians were accepted into professional orchestras around the country along with the men. Ethel lived to be the oldest conductor in the world, and died at the age of 101.

Szvetlana Alekszijevics: Secondhand time / The unwomanly face of war

Both are very difficult reads emotionally, but much worth reading. The author created a new genre by weaving together thousands of oral history interviews to show complex, challenging pictures of World War II, and the fall of the Soviet Union. She talked to all kinds of people from all walks of life and many different ideologies and experiences. I would make her books mandatory reading in History class. Maybe fewer people would romanticize war.


Comics

In terms of comics, this was a good year. Continuing series were fun, and the ones below were freshly added to my list of favorites.

John Allison - Whitney Cogar: Giant Days

Adorable, likable, hilarious. Three college roommates with their distinct personalities and problems of epic magnitude. Sometimes it borders on magical realism, and features many memorable, quotable panels and lines. I fell in love with it at first volume. And the artwork is great too.


Simon Spurrier: Hellblazer

Spurrier can do no wrong when the extra mile needs going. Whoever decided he should write John Constantine was right on the money. Too bad it is a limited series, but at least it is a complete story; Spurrier ties it up so neatly (and so epicly) at the end that it should be taught in writing school. The visuals are just as strong and haunting as the story is. I love the way Spurrier handles magic and mythology, and makes each noir-horror episode complete in and of itself.

Kieron Gillen - Simon Spurrier - Al Ewing: Sins of Sinister

We all knew when the whole Krakoa thing started for the X-men that it was only a matter of time before it had to come crashing down. Sins of Sinister is the volume that rings in the beginning of the end, and it does so on a thousand-year alternate-future scale. It seems like the writers thoroughly enjoyed the premise of "what if mutants had no moral qualms at all"? I can't wait to see what comes after this.


Folklore and mythology

I'm not gonna list all the volumes I read this year (a lot), but I'd like to highlight some new favorites.

Oein DeBhairduin: Why the moon travels

This book is an instant classic. The stories were written down from a living Irish Traveller tradition, a whole community participated in shaping them, and the illustrations are also the work of a Traveller artists. The result is a lovely volume full of memorable, enchanting stories. I loved the respect they all show for nature, how even the animals usually portrayed as villains or pests appear as helpful and kind. Even the sad or tragic stories were beautiful; people were taught to learn from their mistakes instead of being mercilessly punished. I will return to this book again and again for moments of beauty and wisdom.


Daniel Allison: Irish mythology

This book is the perfect blend of respect for tradition, deep love for myths, and creative storytelling. This book bridges the divide between oral storytelling and written fiction with a lively style that begs to be read aloud. Epic battles, formidable heroes, powerful magic, and deep personal emotions create a mythic landscape that is vividly alive. Peeling back layers of Christian retellings, and tracing the untold inner motivations of larger-than-life characters, Daniel Allison weaves old stories into a powerful narrative. His admitted goal is to make new generations of readers fall in love with Irish mythology. Mission accomplished. If you enjoyed Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, you will love this book.

Rakesh Khanna - J. Furcifer Bhairav: Ghosts, monsters, and demons of India

I rarely read encyclopedia style folklore books for three reasons: 1. They usually limit themselves to the most well known stories or creatures. 2. They usually don't contain the actual narratives. 3. They rarely cite their sources individually. This book, however, checks all three boxes, in more than 500 pages. I kept reading and reading, and when I thought we would surely run out to shocking ghosts, memorable monsters, and haunting demons, there was always more. And when I thought I can't be surprised by anything anymore, the book still had some unexpected creatures at Z. It is an entertaining, inspiring read, full of stories I have never heard before (and yes, stories are often included with the creatures). The authors selected from a wide range of cultures within India, and also a wide timeline from ancient textx to 21st century hauntings. There are sources, and pop culture references, and clever commentary. I don't even like dark folklore all that much, and yet I adored this book.


Poetry

I have to admit I didn't read a lot of poetry this year, but in December I came across this little volume and it is worth a mention.

Kaitlin Shetler: i hope they sing christmas carols in hell

I found the poet through a viral poem on Facebook about the Virgin Mary, and I loved the look of this volume so much I had to buy it. It didn't disappoint. Christmas poetry from an atheist, and yet the poems are not about hate or spite. There is a lot of feminism, a lot of humor, and a talent for seeing deeper messages in classic Bible stories (or what they could have been). And a hope that there are Christmas carols in hell, because an atheist can love the holiday too.


Children's books

A new category this year, for obvious reasons :) Tested with the kiddo, but selected according to my own preferences. 

Kathryn Cristaldi - Kristyna Litten: I love you till the cows come home

My absolute favorite. Adorable illustrations, fun poetry, and a lovable, deeply emotional message. It made me tear up the first time.


Kate Allan: I like you

I like the author for her motivational messages on social media, and the book was a resounding success at home. It is a simple little read - I like you when you are mad, when you are happy, when you are shy, when you are messy, etc. - with bright colors, and it had to be read over and over and over again. Sometimes the kid even asked for it specifically after meltdowns.


Sandra Boynton: Barnyard dance

Another illustrator I like, and a very fun book. Combining funny animals and contra dancing, what's not to love? Extra funny when my Cajun husband reads it.

Béatrice Rodriguez: Chicken thief

I have the Catalan edition, but honestly it doesn't matter because it's a silent book. The pictures speak for themselves, and they are funny and adorable. A fox steals a chicken, and as they are running from Rooster & friends, they slowly grow to like each other. This is a three-book series, each volume just as silly and likable as the next. 

Satoe Tone: Where the heart is

Gorgeous, gorgeous book. A simple yet sweet story, and beautiful imagery filling every page.

Rob Scotton: Splat the cat

A book for starting school, but it works just as well with kindergarten. Kiddo had no problems on that front, but she does love this book for the funny cat characters and entertaining story. And I enjoyed reading it too.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Warm-hearted heroes and elaborate cursing (Hungarian Roma folktales 1. - Ferenc Jóni)

This is a spinoff to Following folktales around the world. I have been collecting books of Hungarian Roma folktales, and it is time to start reading them. Hence, this new blog series. The only change is that there will be no Connections section (since most tale types are familiar).

I encountered the tales of Jóni Ferenc in the archives of the Museum of Ethnography, when I was doing research for my "feminist folktales" collection. I selected three of his stories to be included in that book, because I liked his flair for unusual twists and humorous language (e.g. he has a wonderful variant of Love like Salt, where the exiled princess is saved by a wise old witch). I recently discovered that his tales were published in one volume, and I obviously had to read it.

Jóni Ferenc (1899-1972) was a romungro (Hungarian Roma) storyteller from Ramocsaháza (Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county). His folktales were collected by Erdész Sándor in 1960. His repertoire numbered an impressive 163 stories, and his brother and sister (Mihály and Anna) were also accomplished storytellers. This book contains 97 of his tales; the editors only selected one of several variants of each tale type. Not always the ones I liked best, but it was still a fascinating read. Since Jóni Ferenc told to adults (as the majority of traditional tellers did), and Erdész Sándor transcribed his stories literally (luckily), the texts contain a whole lot of adult language and elaborate cursing.

Highlights

One of my favorite tales in the collection was The three golden apples. The hero born from an apple rescued two cursed princesses with the help of a third, and then saved his own brothers as well. I especially liked that he had to fight the princesses, carefully cutting off layers of their frog skin / armor. I also enjoyed the story of The king who did not suffer snakes in his house. It was about a clever servant, best friend of the king's son, who rescued a small snake and kept it (it turned out to be an enchanted princess, obviously). It was a classic "master maid" story, but I loved the clever, studious, kind protagonist. I was also delighted to find a version of my favorite "man hibernates with dragons over winter" folktale type in the book. Here, the dragons were runaways from a garabonciás wizard's service.

A fun twist on the "seeking immortality" tale type was The king who lived for nine hundred years and only then did he set out to seek immortality (and the storyteller still referred to him as "a handsome kid"). In the end, Death and his wife decided to split him in half, and then the queen regrew him from her half, like a starfish. Another creative take was the tale of The little swineherd, who climbed a sky-high tree and ended up in Fairyland. Fairies there spoke their own language (except for one who'd visited Hungary and knew Hungarian). The wings of the Fairy Queen were stolen not by the hero, but by her maids, who honestly were very much fed up with their mistress. By the end of the tale the queen ended up in jail for having a child out of wedlock - but once she was freed, she managed to get her lover back (despite the swineherd having married a mortal princess in the meantime). Another swineherd ended up working as a gardener in a princess' palace, and since he did not only know magic, but also had great pickup lines, he won the princess as a wife. The flirting scenes were very elaborate, and quite smooth, which is unusual for a folktale.

I was amused by the story of the cemetery guard who trapped his own haunting Misfortune inside a bone during lunch. Even though Misfortune fulfilled all his wishes, in the end he refused to let it go, and burned it to ashes instead. The classic "blacksmith and the devil" tale type ended on a twist as well: it turned out that the protagonist, while a hardened gambler, secretly used all the money he won to help widows and children, and therefore gained entry into Heaven. The most head-spinning twist, however, came in the tale of Twenty-four hairy men. In this tale, 24 brothers encountered an enchanted palace with 24 princesses, but they failed to break the enchantment. The youngest brother then got married, had 24 sons, and when his sons grew up, they managed to rescue the princesses.

I was reminded of the Thousand and One Nights by the tale of Kovács János, which was a "story within a story". The protagonist was transformed into a dog, then a bird, by his promiscuous wife. He went through many adventures (fighting wolves and witches), until a kind maidservant rescued him and helped him take revenge.

There were also several darker tales in the collection. One of my favorite tale types, "the princess in the shroud" was represented by The soldier who wanted his pay. Here, the cursed princess crawled out of her coffin every night and scorched whatever he touched. Lame and One-hand was a tale from a type I never liked much, but this version was memorable: two princes were crippled by a witch, and a kind princess decided to take care of them. When in turn a witch abused her in secret, the princes came to her rescue. In the end, they even got their limbs back. In the story of Bogdán the fisherman, the hero was ordered by a king to go visit God and invite him to dinner. His magical wife killed Bogdán, and once he was done with the otherwordly visit, she revived him. A dark realistic tale told about a woman beaten to death by her jealous abusive husband, but a series of heavenly miracles, and the scent of incense, proved that she had always been innocent. He ended up in hell.

There was a fascinating, unusual tale about a princess turned into a wolf. She tried to trap and eat a prince, but he decided to try and save her anyway (along with her people, who were all turned into wolves). He had to fight her first husband, a fearsome wolf, and defeat him to break the curse. The curse, by the way, had been placed on them by the princess' "treacherous, vile father", because she chose to marry without permission. At the end of the tale, since the king showed no remorse, the young couple told him off and cut ties with the royal family. Interestingly, this tale appeared in two different versions in the book, once as a fairy tale and once as a legend. It was also not the only fascinating animal story. In another one, a hunter found a boy raised by bears. When he grew up, the boy won a princess through several tasks set for him by her twelve giant brothers. She tied strands of her hair around his body to make him stronger. There was a lovely moment where the boy encountered a bear again, and cried, reminded of his foster-mother.

Among the more "adult" themed stories, the ones I enjoyed the most featured soldiers. In one of them, a poor man's son wandered into the lair of robbers at night, and encountered another traveler (the king in disguise). They managed to overcome the robbers, with a lot of heavy cursing as encouregement on the poor boy's part; later on, he found out in an unexpected twist who the other traveler really was. Another amusing and uncensored tale was that of King Matthias and the soldier - the king in disguise encountered a veteran, who spoke in a very rough way, but had a kind heart, and ended up saving the king's life.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Folktales about adoptive fathers (International Father's Day)

It's father's day, and I felt like making another post, so here it is. 

(Everybody calm down, this is a stock photo)

We are celebrating fathers - and father figures - all around the world today. I already posted about the importance of caring fathers in folklore a few years ago. Today I decided that I want to highlight stories about adoptive fathers - because adoption is a topic near and dear to my heart, and because it is often represented in a negative way in folklore.

So, let's hear it for great adoptive fathers, both in folklore and in the real world!

(Links in the titles, as usual.)

The Flying Horse of Earthdom (Scottish Traveller tale)

One of Duncan Williamson's tales. A king's son is born with a hump on his back, and the king orders the baby to be abandoned in the woods. He is adopted by an old hunchbacked man who takes him to a secret place called Earthdom, populated by people shunned by society. The boy is raised there, and since his adoptive father teachers him archery, his back straightens by the time he grows up. He returns to court to win a series of contests. When the king finds out the young man is his son, he wants to take him back - but the boy refuses him, and returns to Earthom to the kind people who raised him.

The Wild Man's Daughter (Greece)

A king's daughter sees a dream that foretells her father bowing before her. The king grows so angry that he orders her to be abandoned in the wilderness. She ends up in the house of a Wild Man, who adopts her and cares for her, and helps her grow in confidence and find a worthy husband. Even after his death, he leaves her some magic to ensure her happiness.

Heimer and Aslaug (Iceland)

This is a sequel to the epic story of Sigurd and Brynhildr. The tragic couple has a daughter, Aslaug. After the death of her parents she is saved and spirited away by Heimer, who becomes her foster-father. He hides the baby girl inside a harp and travels with her to faraway places, disguised as a wandering musician. Eventually he is killed, but he manages to save Aslaug's life.

N'oun Doaré (Brittany)

The hero of this story (whose name means "I don't know") is found as a small child by the Marquis of Coat-Squiriou. The kind marquis adopts him and raises him. When N'oun Doaré grows up, he goes through a series of adventures, supported by his parents. Eventually he even finds out about his own origins - however, when asked, he still names the marquis and his wife as his true parents.

Boris Son o' Three (Ukraine)

A boy is kidnapped by an eagle and lost in the woods. He is found by three brothers who decide to raise the baby together; they christen him Boris Son o' Three. When he grows up, the fathers gift him a magic foal, and he goes on to amazing adventures.

The Wild Cat of the Forest (Austria)

A charcoal burner encounters a large man in the forest and invites him to baptize his newborn child. The godfather names the boy Wild Cat. Growing up, the boy keeps getting into trouble and his parents abuse him, so one night he runs away and goes to live with his godfather. The wild man teaches him a useful trade and cares for him, until Wild Cat runs away again to other adventures.

There are more stories, but this is all I had time for today. I hope I managed to demonstrate that kind adoptive fathers do exist in folklore :) 

Happy father's day!